This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is being commemorated against statistical evidence showing that 45 per cent of women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced it in Kenya.
According to UN Women, violence against women and girls is the most prevalent human rights violation. This year’s theme calls for the involvement of everyone.
The media deserve credit for bringing GBV cases to light. Unfortunately, many GBV stories continue to employ phrases like “domestic dispute” or “volatile relationship” to describe the incidents.
These minimise or trivialise the violence. In some instances, the media sensationalise GBV by using unnecessarily dramatic language and gruesome details.
Many reports also characterise GBV as fuelled by alcohol and drugs or related to mental health, stress, finances or a perpetrator “simply snapping”. This is contrary to evidence showing such situations may aggravate violence but do not drive it.
Studies have established that the media can positively influence the culture, behaviours and attitudes that cause violence against women and children.
That is because constructive media coverage of GBV can help readers, listeners and viewers understand how pervasive it is, who is impacted, what motivates it and how it can be avoided. Therefore, the media’s scrutiny of such violence has the potential to influence public policy and law.
By reporting about GBV, the media can further affect how women and children understand their own experiences of violence and, in so doing, influence their decisions on whether to speak out, take action or seek help. Even abusers may come to understand why they use violence and whether they should seek help to change their vile ways.
Redefine GBV discourses
More crucially, the media can help society to redefine GBV discourses, particularly violence against women, who face numerous types of discrimination and oppression. They can actively support the view that GBV is never acceptable or excusable.
However, the media can do better by infusing broader social aspects in GBV stories. This may be accomplished through evidence-based language that frames GBV in ways that help audiences to understand that, globally, most violence against women and children is driven by gender inequality, through patriarchy.
As such, the media should use caution when including character assessments of perpetrators from neighbours or friends—such as “He was a wonderful husband” and “loving father”. This is risky since most cases of domestic violence occur discreetly and over a long period.
They are not simply “random acts of violence” as commonly reported. Instead, GBV stories should empower citizens to grasp the bigger picture by incorporating experts’ views to contextualise the incidents.
Lastly, whenever possible, the media should link GBV stories to existing human rights instruments and information about specialised assistance for those who have experienced the violence.
Mr Wagunda is a communications lecturer at Rongo University. [email protected].